ROCK TAVERN, N.Y. —
It was like seeing double as Joe Wiegand beheld a life-sized bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt being completed recently at a foundry in this town outside Newburgh, N.Y.
“They nailed it,” Mr. Wiegand said, 47, of the likeness achieved by the sculptors.
Mr. Wiegand should know. He makes a living dressing and speaking in the role of Roosevelt at events – a Roosevelt repriser, he calls it – and is such a dead-ringer for the 26th president, down to his robust build and mustache, that he was hired to model for the statue months earlier, and now he was back to check it out. He admired the mustache, with its shaggy similarity to his own.
“He had a crumb-catcher,” he said of the real Roosevelt. “It would have been in his soup.”
The statue, commissioned by the American Museum of Natural History, to anchor its newly restored Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall, was sculpted at StudioEIS in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, which specializes in historically accurate statues, and has turned out scores of American presidents.
Each president poses his own challenge, said Ivan Schwartz, who founded the studio with his brother Elliot. For Roosevelt, there were plenty of photographs that showed his likeness, build and clothing, but the challenge came after the artists settled on the photograph they sought to emulate — Roosevelt resting on a big rock during a 1903 trip to Yosemite park.
Since the statue was being made to install on a museum bench, for close hobnobbing with visitors, sculptors had to adapt the pose for a lower, flat surface.
The photo, Mr. Schwartz said, “did not translate to a bench.’’ The sculpture needed “to be altered, and had to still look like Teddy Roosevelt,” he added.
So the studio flew Mr. Wiegand in from his home in Sewanee, Tenn., and had him dress and act like Roosevelt for an extensive photo shoot at the studio in Brooklyn.
It is not uncommon for the studio to use its employees or actors to dress up as models. But Mr. Wiegand does not only resemble Roosevelt, at 5-feet 8 inches tall and 220 pounds, he approaches Roosevelt’s size during his visit to Yosemite. He is also a Roosevelt historian, writer and lecturer. For years Mr. Wiegand has studied photographs and films of Roosevelt and digested descriptions of his physical characteristics and style of movement and gesture. Not to mention that he has seen scores of Roosevelt statues, while traveling to all 50 states to portray Roosevelt.
“You want to start with somebody who resembles the character you want, but who also understands the character,” Mr. Schwartz said. “We wanted to find someone who had studied him.”
The Brooklyn studio used the photos of Mr. Wiegand get approval for the sculpture as well as input from the team of museum officials, historians and Roosevelt family members involved in the planning of the statue, which took five months to complete.
Of Mr. Wiegand, Mr. Schwartz said, “He’s not a stand-in for the real man but he certainly gets things going in the right direction.”
Museum officials said it was vital to get the statue right because of Roosevelt’s special connection to the museum. Roosevelt’s father was one of the museum’s founders, and the museum’s original charter was approved in the parlor of Teddy Roosevelt’s childhood home on East 20th Street in Manhattan. Young Teddy contributed items to the museum, including a bat, a dozen mice, a turtle, the skull of a squirrel and four bird eggs.
Roosevelt’s shadow over the museum was made vivid in the 2006 movie, “Night at the Museum,’’ when a Teddy Roosevelt statue comes to life.
The museum helped fuel his interest in conservationism that distinguished his career, said Mr. Weigand, as he continued to inspect the statue in the Polich Tallix foundry.
He was invited by the museum to see the 450 pound statue, which is scheduled to be moved to the museum this week and installed in time for the room’s official opening on October 27, Roosevelt’s 154th birthday.
Mr. Wiegand puffed up his chest to emulate the statue’s erect posture, which seemed to parallel Roosevelt’s powerful approach to life.
“T.R. built that body,” he said. “You rarely ever see pictures of him slouching. Everything was erect and forward and leaning into life.”
The Roosevelt repriser squinted at this bronze figure forged from the combined likenesses of his hero and himself, and said, “You can see the many levels of his gaze, and that he’s a man of vision looking into the future.”